Is the 21st century the age of autism? Seemingly overnight, autism (or Autism Spectrum Disorder, ASD) is front and center in discussions of behavior, human development, and societal norms. Many autistics have tried to explain ASD and offer suggestions for helping the “neurodivergent.”
One of the most prominent voices in addressing ASD and Catholicism has been Fr. Matthew Schneider, LC. He argues for the need for, among other things, a “sensory-friendly Mass.” I will call his approach mainstream.
But then there is the leftist revolutionary strategy. Not surprisingly in this politics-saturated moment, ASD has been latched onto by the Left to undermine societal norms and capture another vulnerable group of people. They are doing this under the guise of science.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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According to a recent NPR story, “People who are transgender or nonbinary are more likely to be autistic. One large study found that it’s three to six times more common. Researchers are working to understand the connection and how society can be more accommodating to people who live at this intersection.” (The study is not cited, but this study contains information found in the NPR story.) There is much to unpack here.
For many years post-modernism extolled the dogmas of deconstruction and “socially-constructed” identities. This was to counter objective truth and biological realities. The assault on foundational philosophy and common sense has given rise to the likes of Oprah touting “speaking your truth,” as if there are as many truths as there are people.
Concerning identities and biology, we now have the contrary-to-all evidence presumption of “sex assigned at birth,” as if humans—male and female—are interchangeable. Now it appears that the Left—in thrall to progressive amnesia—has forgotten that their assertions about “gender” (a.k.a. sex) are not hard science. They obscure the fact that transgenderism flies in the face of embryology, biology, genetics, chemistry, etc. As modern day alchemists and heretics, they deny essence and demand that cosmetically-altered bodies be deemed what they are not.
And sadly, they are now preying on autistic people—especially children—as disciples to advance their cause.
For years I was an autism skeptic. Those I knew who had been publically identified as autistic I found irritating at best and insufferable at worst. Then, four or five years ago at age 57, I was diagnosed by a psychiatrist as “being on the spectrum.” No other therapist or counselor had ever even suggested that, turning instead to the hackneyed family dynamics of psychology.
The diagnosis made so much sense to me and my wife, explaining many of my seemingly insoluble quirks, behaviors, and shortcomings. So the NPR story (heard while we were waiting to hear the Sunday puzzle in the vehicle on our way to Mass) grabbed my attention.
People interviewed in the story spoke of anxiety and feelings of brokenness and alienation, of not fitting in. As a self-identified weirdo for most of my life, I understood. So let’s agree that the autistic often have difficulty navigating society, relationships, and personal interactions. I can testify to all those things.
But the answer is not what an interviewee in the NPR story claims. “There’s something about autism or about the autistic brain that, at least in many of us, makes us really question norms and, like, why norms exist and what they’re for.” That is where the Left spots a weak point in their siege of civilization. Instead of society responding with, “the norms are there for all of us to live together in the best possible way,” we are told that because one (fairly small) group is having trouble, then all the rules need to change.
According to the National Institutes of Mental Health a typical characteristic of ASD is “becoming upset by slight changes in a routine and having difficulty with transitions.” The Left’s solution is to blow up the norms and structures, supposedly in favor of the autistics. There are no calls for self-denial or discipline, instead we have the siren song of medication, hormonal treatment, or even surgery to address perceptions of gender dysphoria. At the very least the Left wants autistics to revel in their differences, which only increases their feelings of otherness and alienation.
The mainstream answer is to manipulate problematic situations. In Father Schneider’s approach that might look like more attention to simplifying vision and sound at Mass. The problem is that the Novus Ordo is intrinsically talk and movement heavy. There is practically no quiet time in this Mass. He stresses “acceptance” by the parish and its people and celebrating autistic differences.
My answer? Tradition. By Tradition I mean structure, order, focus, quiet, and objective truth. All these characteristics are found in the Vetus Ordo with its disciplines and accoutrements.
The Novus Ordo is rife with variations depending on who is celebrating and other factors. The Traditional Mass is much more stable. No sharing the sign of peace, or hand-holding during the Our Father, or rampant talking immediately before and after Mass. No worries about approaching for Communion, possibly with laypeople involved. In the Traditional realm I first appreciated the Low Mass with its subdued actions and quiet, but over time I have come to also love the Missa Cantata and its rhythms.
Assisting at the Traditional Mass does not solve any of the issues that come with ASD, but it keeps my focus on God. Autism, while it may be unique in its characteristics, is no different than other human conditions in its relation to God. It does not confer an exempt status from seeking the Lord and striving to attain Heaven. I see it as a Cross. Or better yet, an irritant which will produce a pearl that is strong faith and eternity with God.
There is no cure for autism, or at least no earthly cure. The world will see it as a disability or a free pass from norms, when it is actually a gift. The radical Left sees it as an opportunity to tear down when it is actually a weight to train the soul. It can be cursed, or it can be cherished.
NPR’s reporting makes autistics sound like often-fragile victims, oppressed by a rigid surrounding society. Perversely, the Left exploits fragility in service to its destructive agenda.
But the Faith makes no distinction between neuro-divergents and neuro-typicals. Instead, the question for all of us is the one our Lord asked his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?”
Excuses make easy idols. The Traditional Faith in its hardness casts down those idols.